Arizona air ambulance testing device that could aid in CPR

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A device that can stand in for human hands and provide CPR compressions could change how a northern Arizona air ambulance gives life-saving care.

Guardian Air, which maintains medical helicopters at seven bases throughout the state's high country, recently started testing an automated compression device out of its Winslow station, the Arizona Daily Sun reported.

The device has a band that wraps around a patient's chest and can contract at a pre-programmed rate and pressure. Some studies show it can be more effective than humans at providing chest compressions in a moving vehicle such as an ambulance or helicopter, according to the company.

Medics like Dean Hoffman say the helicopter's main cabin, which measures about 85 cubic feet (2.4 cubic meters), is often too cramped to properly give CPR if someone, on the rare occasion, goes into cardiac arrest.

"You're trying as hard as you can, and you might not be delivering adequate compressions," he said.

In a study involving test patients two years ago, Guardian Air found medics and nurses were not providing the necessary force or compression rate. Research into improvements led them to the new device.

Guardian Air interim program director Dustin Windle said the device can deliver the constant compressions, freeing up medics for other tasks like thinking about treatment or administering medication. He declined to identify the manufacturer since the decision to buy the device was still up in the air.

Hoffman, the medic, said the device would be even more valuable for transport from rural areas such as the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Reservation. Those areas have smaller, less equipped medical facilities and often have patients who need longer transport to a large hospital.

"In my mind, any critical patient, this would be put on them and if they were to experience a cardiac arrest, all you would have to do is push a button," he said.

The devices would likely be used relatively rarely, Hoffman added.

One compression machine costs about $11,000. If the company's trial period with the machine yields positive results, officials will seek out funding through grants and their own budget to buy seven of them - one for each helicopter.

The devices are already popular with Guardian Medical Transport, Guardian Air's counterpart on the ground. The service has been using the devices for five years when ferrying patients from accident scenes to hospitals, according to paramedic Pete Walka. He believes about 75 cardiac arrest patients have been treated with the device each year.

The automated compression technology has been around for at least the last decade. Greg Friese, the editor-in-chief of an online news site for emergency medical technicians and paramedics called, said it's likely there are emergency medical services in every state using the chest compression devices. He is aware of three prominent manufacturers of the devices.

"In the context of an ambulance or helicopter, I would say yes, they're going to be increasingly common because you can turn over a manual procedure that needs to be done the same way over and over to a machine," Friese said.

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